The New York Islanders stand at 88 points on the season with three games remaining, and are on the brink of elimination tonight in Raleigh as they try to chase down the Toronto Maple Leafs at 93 points. Tonight’s game provides the Hurricanes the opportunity to dish out some of the same bitter defeat which they have been forced to face during their recent three game slide out of contention.
The Islanders enter tonight’s contest on a three game winning streak which has allowed them to keep their hopes on life support. On Tuesday they escaped Nashville with a 2-1 overtime victory against the Predators. A single Islander loss or a Maple Leaf victory will seal the Isles’ fate and, barring a miracle by the Tampa Bay Lightning, lock in the playoff participants for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in both conferences.
As has been the case all season, the Islanders have been led by captain John Tavares. He leads the Islanders with 66 points on the season and is second on the team in goals scored with 28, behind only Anders Lee’s 31. Unfortunately for the Islanders, Tavares suffered a season-ending hamstring injury last Saturday, and will be unavailable for the last-ditch run for the wildcard by the Isles. Tavares is a dynamic player, but has been leaned upon consistently by the Islanders, who seem to only be able to sustain success when their captain gives them outstanding performances.
In his absence, terrific play in net during the recent three game run has been provided by Jaroslav Halak, back from banishment in the AHL, who has allowed a total of six goals while manning the net for New York in their past four games. This type of goaltending has eluded the Islanders much of the season, and serves as a major factor in their inability to claw their way into the playoff field thus far.
Late in the season, the Islanders received some emerging scoring with the addition of Joshua Ho-Sang to the line-up. The 2014 first round pick has provided 10 points in his 18 games played, but has not been able to make up for the relatively disappointing season from free agent acquisition Andrew Ladd and Ryan Strome, who was expected to pick up more of the offensive load with the departure after last season of Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen. Strome has been lost for the year with a broken wrist, another in a long line of injuries for the Isles, which includes Mikhail Grabovski, Travis Hamonic, Nikolai Kulemin and Casey Cizikas to go along with Strome and Tavares.
One bright spot on the season for the Islanders has been the continued development of defenseman Calvin de Haan. His 24 points from the blue line have been solid, but his sterling plus-14 has only been bested by veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, who boasts a plus-24.
If the Islanders are to continue their quest for the final wild card, they will need to slow down the Hurricanes’ attack, which they have struggled to do mightily in the previous four match-ups. The Canes have tallied a total of 22 goals in the four games, and have come away with seven of a possible eight points against the Isles. Especially without Tavares, the Islanders need to play a tighter, more defensively-minded brand of hockey to handle the speed the Hurricanes will present.
As the season winds down, the Islanders and the Hurricanes have been one of the more entertaining match-ups of the season, with a number of high-scoring and fast-paced games. For the Isles to have success, they will try to curb all of that fun tonight in PNC Arena.
What to Watch For
- Expect the Hurricanes to try a multitude of different options and even lineups all together in the final three games of the season. While the Islanders are still in contention, expect a bit of a more standard lineup, but certainly with a few wrinkles involved.
- Look for Jaccob Slavin and his partner (whomever that may be this evening) to match up with the Josh Bailey and Anders Lee line as much as possible. With much of the scoring punch absent for the Islanders, expect a more focused match-up from Bill Peters this evening.
- Bryan Bickell returns to PNC this evening for the first time since being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Here’s to a big hand for Bickell tonight and maybe Jeff Skinner can share the love with his again by smacking a shot off his backside for a goal, ala the home opener.